Defensive deficiencies

Last modified: 12/8/2011 12:00:00 AM
DURHAM - It's been 14 years since the University of New Hampshire was last swept by a conference opponent in the regular season. The 1996-97 Wildcats fell to Boston University three times, then dropped a fourth game to the Terriers in the Hockey East final at the Garden.

So it's fitting, as the Wildcats try to break out of a mini-slump - in which they've won just once in their

last four games - that they'll face the 15th-ranked Terriers (8-5-1, 6-4-1 Hockey East) tonight at the Whittemore Center. BU has already beaten UNH (6-8-2, 4-6-1 HE) twice this season - both games in Boston. And while the 'Cats were certainly in both games, the outcomes were lopsided at 5-0 and 4-1.

"I think it's a little bit of everything. Matty (Di Girolamo) hasn't played his best, but I'm not going to blame it on him. It's people being uncovered, rebounds, you got to help out in that area," said UNH Coach Dick Umile, when asked if he thought it was his goaltender, defensemen or forwards who are most to blame for the Wildcats' defensive deficiencies. "I think it's a combination of all three."

UNH lost a total of three games by three goals or more last season, a feat that's already been surpassed by its opponents this season. The Wildcats have been beaten by at least three goals on four occasions this year, an indication of their struggles at the defensive end of the ice.

When looking at statistics relative to last year's group (which was 10-2-4 through the first 16 games), these Wildcats are very comparable. Goals for, shots, shots allowed and special teams are all only a few percentage points away from last year's totals. Where UNH is drastically different, however, is in the goals-against category. The Wildcats had given up just 39 goals (2.44 per game) at this point last year, while this year's squad has already surrendered 56 goals (3.5 per game).

"A lot of people like to say they think it's because we're young and things like that," sophomore blue-liner Justin Agosta said. "I think it's just a lot of things haven't gone our way, but with the talent we have on this team, we're very capable of going on a hot streak and changing it around in the second half."

Agosta noted that Umile has emphasized the importance of clearing traffic from the front of the net and doing a better job cleaning up rebounds in front of Di Girolamo, who has struggled to find the same consistency that made him a preseason All-American selection. But inconsistency has plagued the entire roster, not just their netminder.

The Wildcats have blown a four-goal lead, given up late goals, and most recently, last Saturday, poured 29 first-period shots on Lowell yet went into the first intermission tied at 1-1.

"Coach stresses playing a full 60-minute game, which obviously we haven't been doing because if we had been we'd be winning more games," said sophomore forward Austin Block, whose Wildcats enter tonight with nine points - just two clear of ninth-place Massachusetts. "But I think it's going to take some time. ... I don't think there's a doubt in anyone's mind that we're capable enough to win games, and luckily the season isn't even close to over and we still have a lot of games left to put some wins together and make a run for it."

 10 for 10

The following are 10 words on each of the 10 teams in Hockey East, with conference records in parentheses:

Boston College (9-3-0) - Ten players with double-digit points. These guys are deep.

Merrimack (7-2-1) - Back-to-back losses to Providence have Warriors looking mortal.

Boston University (6-4-1) - Loss to BC doesn't overshadow previous five games - all wins.

UMass Lowell (6-3-0) - Just 17 goals against in last eight games. That's impressive.

Providence (6-4-0) - Broomstick to the top team in the country. Enough said.

Maine (5-5-1) - Black Bears are no longer hibernating after three straight victories.

UNH (4-6-1) - Huge tilt with BU tonight; playoffs arrive early in Durham.

Northeastern (3-7-2) - If only Michigan and Notre Dame were in Hockey East.

Massachusetts (2-6-3) - Unbeaten at home, Minutemen want remaining schedule played in Amherst.

Vermont (1-9-1) - Played Merrimack tough yesterday, but Catamounts aren't leaving the basement.

 Ice chips

• Di Girolamo is 1-4-0 with a 2.95 GAA and .890 save percentage in five career starts against BU.

• There are currently seven Hockey East teams ranked in the PairWise top 30. UNH, Massachusetts and Vermont, however, are not among them.

• The Wildcats are 6-1-0 when leading after two periods.

• Tonight is "Blue Out the Whitt" night, as all fans are encouraged to wear UNH blue to the game.

(Gavin Faretra can be reached at 369-3340 or gfaretra@cmonitor.com.)




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